This week, as part of the Creative Computing Online Workshop, I decided to complete some of the recommended reading. In particular, Seymour Papert‘s 2000 paper, What’s the big idea? Toward a pedagogy of idea power, formed part of a very special week for me in discovering the “heart” of my beliefs about creativity and technology.
I’ve started reading, Invent to Learn: Making, tinkering and engineering in the classroom by Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager. In chapter 1, there’s a beautiful photograph with the caption, “Seymour Papert delights in a kid’s computer programming”. This first chapter of Invent to Learn prompted me to take a journey back to the first time I used a computer. I decided to deviate slightly from the Creative Computing activities for the week and work on a digital storytelling project using Scratch to illustrate my first interaction with computers. It was this experience as a teenager that would not only influence my career but my beliefs about teaching and learning. (More about that in a future post!)
As I read Seymour Papert’s paper, I had mixed feelings. From the enthusiasm of “light bulb moments” to the sadness of the many ways we have failed as educators. Although this paper was published in 2000, Papert could have been writing about any number of schools today:
(We need) a new direction for innovation in education: re-empowering the disempowered ideas.
Educators faced with day-to-day operation of schools are forced by circumstances to rely on problem solving for local fixes. They do not have time for “big ideas”.
The most neglected big idea is the very idea of bigness of ideas.
Many (students) react badly to school because its emphasis on memorising facts and acquiring skills that cannot be put to use is like a prison for a mind that wants to fly.
A kid who cares about ideas finds precious few of them in elementary school where he is expected to learn fact and skills that he experiences as excruciatingly boring.
Papert also gives a specific example showing how educators opt for the “dumbed down” version rather than offering their students the opportunity to embrace “the big ideas”. He illustrates how the concept of probability can be taught at various year levels, using programming as the tool for teaching and learning. This reminded me of Dan Meyer‘s well-known TED Talk, Math Needs a Makeover, where he talks about students becoming “impatient problem solvers”. Many students are the product of their education – they have been “dumbed down”, become “impatient problem solvers” and had very little opportunity to develop the “big ideas”.
So, why is it that many of the issues raised in Seymour Papert’s 2000 paper are, sadly, still current? What are we doing about it? For me, my “light bulb moment” occurred during a presentation at the Australian Computers in Education Conference in 2010. Steve Collis, Director of Innovation, from Northern Beaches Christian School, said, “I don’t think of myself as part of a school. I’m part of a global movement.” I framed this quote and it is now displayed in our eLearning Room. It reminds me everyday that, whilst I am working hard to assist teachers to use technology at my school, I am part of something greater. What I do can not only have a positive influence on those at my school but also my colleagues around the globe. I share a common goal with educators around the world. It’s a goal that’s worth all the ups and downs, frustrations and even disappointments. Why? Because when you “delight” in a student’s achievements, just like Seymour Papert did, you know it’s worth it!